This blog, by Assistant District Manager, Melvyn Howe, appeared in the “This is” series.
Traffic, blaring televisions, loud music, an explosive rise in mobile phone ownership and barking dogs. And let’s forget our kids.
Sometimes this cocktail of unrelenting din seems like a 21st century aural equivalent of Dante’s Inferno.
Quietness is in short supply in today’s roller-coaster life, where excessive sound frequently sends heart rates northwards
The recognition of the importance of external quietness and its beneficial effects on health has spawned industries offering things as diverse as ear plugs, sleep machines with “soothing sounds” and double glazing.
But there is a very different form of peace – internal. That has birthed a burgeoning library of books on meditation and prayer and a multitude of disciplines designed to facilitate our inner poise and stillness.
Taken together they suggest society is crying out for quietness.
One answer has been Britain’s growing number of multi-faith spaces (MFS) that offer noise and stress-free sanctuaries for prayer, reflection and meditation.
These can be found in airports, universities and hospitals and are are also increasingly common in businesses, football stadiums, schools and shopping centres – such as one planned in Leicester’s Highcross area. Now libraries are planning to join the list.
Their relative profusion, particularly in the last decade, has seen numbers soar to an estimated 1,500 plus.
Manchester University’s Dr Ralf Brand, who headed recent research into the “phenomenon”, pointed out the increase was “despite declining membership numbers in most established religious organisations in the UK”.
The importance of quietnessis has been highlighted by recent research suggesting noisy hospitals need to become a thing of the past if “the highest quality of care” is to be provided.
The study, reported by Reuters, suggested current conditions may in fact “slow healing”.
“It’s nerve-wracking enough to be a hospital patient, and there’s a lot of racket at night,” said study leader Orfeu Buxton, a neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The research involved playing a variety of hospital sounds to 12 healthy people . It measured the effect on their sleep and found an increase in heart rate. However, because the participants were healthy, the effect of disruptive noise on real patients could be greater still, researchers pointed out.
The obvious answer perhaps is to have quieter hospitals. And that has to be welcomed.
But trying to change an established environment usually takes time and money and may not always be successful .
Developing our inner poise, on the other hand, is something we can get started on right away, and to good effect according to sixteenth century writer Robert Burton. He wrote: “A quite mind cureth all.”
And Hamilton Mabey, American essayist, editor, critic and lecturer, similarly provided this insight: “To have a quiet mind is to possess one’s mind wholly; to have a calm spirit is to possess one’s self.”
My spiritual practice has shown me that no matter how deafening daily life can be there is a mental sanctuary of quietness to which we all have access.
And it is just a thought away.
I believe this was what Jesus was pointing to when he spoke of the need to enter into a “closet” in order to pray.
Many years ago, while working as a news agency journalist, the constant deadlines, unremitting workload and unrelenting competition seemed to overwhelm me.
I felt as if I was drowning in a demand overload and at times my vision blurred and I became breathless.
But then, one day, I remembered the bit about the “closet” and the phrase “Peace, be still”, also spoken by Jesus when reportedly calming a storm .
I immediately felt much calmer and both my breathing and vision returned to normal. And as I continued to ponder these concepts the clamour of work life was gradually replaced with a sense of the privilege and opportunity of such a career.
Of course, some people, in similar circumstances, may have made a doctor’s appointment and perhaps they would have been prescribed medication. And that’s fine if it meets the need. But many medical procedures address symptoms without tackling a problem’s underlying cause.
However, the resource I turned to opened up a deeper understanding of what I like to regard as an innate spiritual balance we all have and the solution was permanent.
That doesn’t mean I have grown to love traffic noise, blaring televisions, loud music, intrusive mobile phone conversations or barking dogs.
But it does mean they can’t rob me of an inner haven of peace.